Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Quinn Spin Vol. 2: Property Taxes

Assembly Rep Romaine Quinn (R-Barron) set a new low for political gamesmanship this time. He co-authored a bipartisan bill to fix a real problem (that's good!). But when the chips were down, he turned around and voted against his own bill on the Assembly floor! What?!

At issue is the "Dark Store Loophole." Across Wisconsin, big businesses are suing municipalities claiming that their properties are over-valued by millions of dollars, and they're winning. They point to abandoned commercial properties in the area (often, former Walmarts) and argue that their newer, profitable buildings should be valued similarly to these "dark stores."

With a lower assessed value comes lower property taxes for the business, sometimes in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Meanwhile, municipalities and school districts still face the same costs to maintain roads, provide emergency services, and keep the lights on. With no additional money coming from the state, their only choice is to collect higher taxes from homeowners and businesses that are too small to lawyer-up and pursue their own "dark store" lawsuit.

The Appleton Post-Crescent estimates that if all the pending dark store cases are successful, it could take over $770 Million off the tax rolls statewide, and new cases are being filed every month. Right here in Rice Lake, both Menards and Walmart have used the Dark Store Loophole and more are sure to follow. It was against that backdrop that Rep Quinn recorded a video message to bring attention to the issue and promise his constituents that he would work to close the loophole.

Then, things got weird in Madison. Despite dozens of lawmakers from both parties signing on to support the bill to close the loophole, Republican leaders mysteriously refused to schedule it for a vote.

Maybe Scott Walker didn't want to sign it. Maybe Republicans feared the wrath of the business lobbies lined up against the bill. A report on the backroom negotiations surrounding the bill seems to suggest that lobbyists at Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce effectively exercised veto power over every GOP lawmaker.

Whatever the reason, when Democrats forced a vote to close the loophole on February 13, Rep Quinn voted in lockstep with GOP leadership to shoot down his own bill and break his promise to taxpayers and local officials in the 75th District.

UPDATE: As expected, Rep Quinn and his Majority Leader have chosen to split hairs, claiming Quinn's vote shouldn't count because it was "only a procedural vote."

Sure, it was procedural. But it was also the only chance Quinn had to close the loophole and he voted to block the bill he claims to support. The bill had already had 2 public hearings, passed 1 committee unanimously, and wasn't the least bit controversial among folks who aren't lobbyists.

And none of this changes the fact that businesses are still free to pull this loophole garbage and raise YOUR property taxes.

If you support a bill, vote for it.

And for the record, here are at least 2 recent examples where Quinn and Republicans voted Yes on the exact same kind of "procedural moves" to take up bills that weren't on the agenda: AB365 and AB65. In both cases, Republicans then used substitute amendments (which neither the public nor Dem legislators had any prior knowledge of) to completely re-write the bills on the fly. Quinn's concern for process and public notice rings pretty hollow.